Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

john03

Blessed are the Un-Offended: For They are the Elect of God (John 6:60–71)

Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —

These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.

In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.

With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.

Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.

Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated! Continue reading

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

john03

Soul Food: When, Who, What, and Why Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:22–40)

Hunger is a universal experience. So is thirst. And so is seeking to find food and drink in times of need.

Importantly, God made us creatures who need food and drink. And he did this not only because that is how organisms live, but that’s how God works. In other words, by giving us thirst, hunger, and the experience of seeking physical satisfaction, God is teaching us something about himself.

God is our spiritual food!

In John 6, this comes to the forefront as seekers cross the Sea of Galilee to find Jesus and fill their stomachs. Only in this case, Jesus exposes their errant seeking and he in turn leads them to seek food that will not perish.

Indeed, so many of our sins, follies, frustrations, and setbacks are caused by not knowing how to live on Christ, to feed on Christ, and to delight ourselves in Christ. But when we come to Christ and seek life in him, he teaches us that he is the bread of eternal life. And all who feed on him will be saved.

On Sunday, I considered what this means in John 6:22–40. You can find the sermon here. You can also find last weeks sermon too. Next week, Lord willing, I’ll pick up the sacramental language of Jesus calling us to eat his body and drink his blood. Stay tuned.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

john03

What Does Jesus Say About You? Four Witnesses, Four Warnings, Four Marks of Faith (John 5:30-47)

Who do you listen to? And how well do you listen? An honest answer to those questions will tell you a lot about who you are and who you will be in five, ten, or fifty (thousand) years.

Few things are more important than the voices that we will listen to. And few gifts are more precious than men and women who testify to the grace of God in the gospel. If you are listening to others who speak of Christ, point to Christ, and help you follow Christ, you can know these are not just good friends, they are gifts from God.

On Sunday, we considered a similar line of thought as we heard the testimony of four “witnesses” who all tell us something about Christ. At a time when Jesus’ identity was in question and his actions were inviting opposition and the threat of death, Jesus turns to John the Baptist, his works, his Father, and the Scriptures to declare that he is the true Son of God.

Just the same, we need to hear these voices today, as they tell us who Jesus. Moreover, with these witnesses, Jesus warns us of many deadly symptoms of unbelief. Therefore, if you are looking to see who Jesus is or if your faith is genuine, this sermon may help. You can listen to exposition of John 5:30–47 here.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The True Sabbath-Giver: Finding Eternal Rest in Our Superstitious, Secular Age (John 5:1–18)

close up shot of bible text

The True Sabbath-Giver: Finding Eternal Rest in Our Superstitious, Secular Age

In his book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor takes a long time to make a simple argument: Five hundred years ago it was impossible not to believe in God. Whether it was Christianity or some other religion, the world was filled with the divine. Today, however, the influences of science, technology, modern life and postmodern thought, have made belief in God nearly impossible. Or at least, it has become impossible to submit to a view of God and the world that is transcendent over places and true for all people.

Recently, we have seen this denial of God and his world in national news.  When a highly educated supreme court appointee doesn’t know what a woman is she – a woman – is feigning ignorance of biology in order to not offend the masses. Clearly, our civilization is not the same as it was when the light of Christ was brighter. Yet, darkness of the world does not diminish the spiritual need that humans have. Indeed, our secular age is not less religious. Instead, people just worship things that don’t deserve worship.

To say it differently, where the worship of a true and living God is lost superstitions abound. This is true for individuals, families, nations, and churches. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human heart. And if this is true today, it was equally true in Jesus day.

In John 5, we find something odd. Sitting just outside the temple was a group of invalids waiting for the waters to be stirred up in the pool of Bethesda. According to verse 7, and later clarified by the addition of verse 4, we find that many in Jerusalem sought healing not through prayer but through practices associated with other pagan mysterious religions. Clearly, something is wrong!

Indeed, entering a new part of John’s Gospel, the reader is brought back to Jerusalem, but instead of finding people in God’s city awaiting Israel’s restoration, like we see in Luke’s Gospel. We find a multitude of invalids waiting for a miracle that will never come. As Edward Klink notes,

With the abundance of evidence [around the Mediterranean] that pagan religion regularly used healing shrines with water as a regular component, it is not unlikely that [the tradition reported by John] is rooted in folk legend, possibly even a popular Jewish tradition.  (John, 269–70)

Wherever these pagan ideas came from, superstition has gripped a large number in Jerusalem. Even worse, the Jews – i.e., Jewish leaders – have done nothing about it. Rather like the priests condemned in the Old Testament, these guardians of the temple have permitted false worship and errant superstition. Even more, as they patrol the city watching for Jews who might be violating Sabbath, they have no care or compassion for those who are truly suffering.

So that’s the situation we find in John 5, and it will continue until John 11. For seven chapters, Jesus will be confronted by Jewish leaders even as he exposes their hypocrisy. In John 5:1 we read “After this [i.e.. the second sign in Galilee] there was a feast in Jerusalem.” The feast is not named, presumably because John wants to focus on the Sabbath, which is named in verse 9.

So in John 5, Jesus enters the scene on an unmarked Sabbath day. And in all that follows he is going to expose the weakness of the Sabbath under the old covenant, and he is going to give Sabbath rest to the man in ways anticipating the new covenant. That is to say, he is going to heal this man and send him to the temple, so that he can truly come to know the God of Israel (see John 5:14). And for us reading John 5, we come to learn something about superstitions, our Savior, and the Sabbath.

On Sunday, I preached on John 5 and you can find that sermon here. And in that message you will find the good news of Jesus Christ who is our true and better Sabbath-giver. Check back tomorrow too, where I will try to show why John 5, among other passages, does not permit me to be a Sabbatarian. Until then you can read this and leave comments below.

For now, may we give praise to God that the Son invites us to find rest in him and that such rest is not contingent upon our works but his.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Joshua Hurricks on Pexels.com

The Wedding Planner: What John 2–4 Teaches Us About Jesus, Marriage, Resurrections, and the End of All Things

white and black houses with brown grass with overlooking mountain under white sky

For a few years in seminary, I was the graduation coordinator for our school. This meant that every spring we hosted 2000 people to watch 200 students graduate. On the big day, one of the most important parts of the ceremony was the pledge spoken by the president and the students. And that pledge required reading a covenant from the graduation bulletin.

Most years this went off without a hitch, but one year we forgot to put bulletins on the graduates seats, so that by the time that the president was looking for the graduates to respond, there was no response.

It was a semi-catastrophe, and one that required a few people to run around throwing bulletins to graduates. Clearly big events require a myriad of specific details to make them run smoothly.

The same is true in salvation. If God is going bring salvation to the world as John 4:42 says, there are an infinite number of details that go into giving eternal life to those who deserve everlasting death. To be specific the number of details is not actually infinite, because God alone is infinite. But the number of details is so large that the whole of humanity could not discover it,  even if everyone of us was named Solomon or Einstein or Elon.

The truth is, God delights to create a world so manifestly complex that he alone can run it. And marvelously in the middle of his vast creation he enjoys wedding planning too. In fact, the world as we know it began with a wedding in Eden and it will end with a wedding in Zion. In between, God is working all things together for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose—which is the eternal union between Christ and his bride. Continue reading

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

close up shot of bible text

Well, Well, Well: A Marriage, a Mountain, and a Messiah: Part 3 (A Sermon on John 4:27-42)

In The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis envisions a world coming to life, by means of Aslan’s song. If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series,  Aslan the Lion is the Christ-figure who both creates the world and dies to save the world. And in The Magician’s Nephew, which is the prequel to the more famous, The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, we are treated to Lewis’s story of creation.

Here is how he pictures Narnia coming to life.

The Lion was pacing to and fro about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang, the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass. Soon there were other things besides grass. The higher slopes grew dark with heather. Patches of rougher and more bristling green appeared in the valley. Digory did not know what they were until one began coming up quite close to him. It was a little, spiky thing that threw out dozens of arms and covered these arms with green and grew larger at the rate of about an inch every two seconds. There were dozens of these things all round him now. When they were nearly as tall as himself he saw what they were. “Trees!” he exclaimed. (64)

Trees indeed! And in the context of The Magicians’ Nephew this new world was coming to life in the presence of an evil witch and crazy, self-absorbed Uncle. In this way, the creation of Narnia does not match the creation of our world, where God in his eternal perfection made the world good and very good (Genesis 1). Continue reading

Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 2) — A Sermon on John 4:16–26

john03

Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Here: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) —A Sermon on John 4:16–26

Where do you worship? And why? Does the location of your worship matter? Or is it a matter totally inconsequential? When you worship, are you intentionally addressing the Father, the Son, and the Spirit? Or can you simply focus on God? Moreover, are you satisfied to worship alone? Or do you need—are you required—to worship with others?

The more you think about worship, the more you realize how much goes into answering questions about true worship. And the more you let Scripture speak to you on these matters, the more you realize how clearly Scripture says about how, who, and where you worship. You may also realize how much the church has not spoken clearly about worship.

In Scripture, there is a  sense in which we worship everywhere we go. As Romans 12:1–2 says, we are living sacrifices who can and should worship God at all times and in all places. Yet, this everywhere-ness of worship is not something that ancient Israelites, living under the old covenant, would have understood. And maybe it is something that our place-less society needs to recover. For just because Christians do not need to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land, does not mean place is unimportant.

Indeed, prior to Pentecost worship was always conducted on or at a mountain. Such worship may have been true or false, pure or defiled, but worship had a place. And more than a place, worship had a people. In all of the Old Testament (and the New), worship was never an individual affair; it was always shared with other members of the covenant community. Knowing these facts helps us appreciate what is happening in John 4. Continue reading

Was Jesus Among the Larpers? How Reading John 4 with Genesis 29 Helps Us Understand Biblical Typology and Jesus’s Identity

gabriel-rissi-MrdSyMik4ao-unsplash

Well, Well, Well, Look What We Have Hear: A Marriage, A Mountain, and a Messiah (pt. 1) — A Sermon on John 4:1–18

In John’s Gospel we learn that Jesus is the Word made flesh (1:14), the Only Begotten God (1:18), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:19), and the one to whom all the Law and Prophets wrote (1:45). But did you also know that Jesus was also a Larper? Not a leper, mind you, but Larper—a Live Action Role Player.

As best I could find online, Larping is a type of game where a group of people wear costumes representing a character they create to participate in an agreed [upon] fantasy world. Most recently, Larping gained attention in the Marvel Comic series Hawkeye, but it’s been around a lot longer than that. If you need an example of what Larping looks like up close, just go to a Medieval festival near you, and you will surely find a group of Live Action Role Players.

Now, if you don’t want to go to a Medieval Festival to see LARP-ing, you could also read John 4. In this famous chapter, where Jesus confronts the woman at the well, the Lord assumes the role of particular character from the world of the Patriarchs. Indeed, as John tells it, Jesus is a man (or “bridegroom,” see John 3:29) who meets a woman at a well, who will in time, become his bride. Let’s consider how this works. Continue reading

Preach Hebrews the Next Time You Don’t Have a Preacher, Plus a Post-Script on Answered Prayer

dawn-mcdonald-2RADIf5oR28-unsplashWhat will you do the next time you do not have a preacher? Oh, I am not talking about planning for an upcoming Sunday when you, or your pastor, will be absent, or when multiple teaching elders are unavailable. I am talking about when it becomes apparent 10 hours or 10 minutes before Sunday morning that the man called to preach simply cannot do it.

In such a situation, you have a few options. You could call on someone to preach something already prepared. Such preparation includes having a sermon ready, but it could also mean calling on a “prepared” person who could open a text and give a faithful exposition. Elder-qualified pastors and Bible teachers would fall into this category. And one of the best Resurrection Sunday expositions I ever heard came from a seminary professor who was called to preach 10 minutes before service as the teaching pastor lay ill in his office—literally, he was writhing in pain on the floor. (He’s okay now).

Extreme moments call for extreme measures. And churches shouldn’t be surprised that in a fallen world where clay pots preach the glories of God that sometimes those vessels of dust cannot stand and speak. Yet, knowing that, we can still be caught off guard, or in need of immediate relief. And this last weekend was such a case in our church.

What We Did When the Preacher Couldn’t Preach

As many readers of this blog know, I am not a full time blogger—hence, the regular but not absolutely consistent blog schedule. Day to day, I have the joy of serving at Occoquan Bible Church, located in Northern Virginia. Since 2015, I have been pastor for preaching and theology. So, most Sundays I am the one standing up and preaching.

At the same time, we have a deep bench of gifted preachers. And if you check our website, you will find messages from Ben, Rod, Jared, Dave, Ron, and Jeff. All of our elders have preached multiple times to our church. And by conviction, we do this because we believe the pulpit is the Lord’s, not man’s. It is God’s Word that is preached, not our own. And it is the faithful preaching of God’s Word that builds his church, not the gifting of any one pastor. For that reason, we intentionally share the pulpit. And by design I preach about 40 times a year, not 52.

Continue reading

Getting Back Into John’s Gospel: An Introduction to Jesus Christ in John 1–2

john03When John Calvin returned to Geneva, after being exiled from the city for three years, he picked up right where he left off. Rather than preaching some preacher-centered ‘I’m Back” message, he simply preached the next verse in the Bible. So great was Calvin’s commitment to verse-by-verse exposition, he made no fanfare for his return to the pulpit. Rather, he preached the next verse in the text and pointed people to Christ.

This week, our church did something similar. In March 2020, we were forced to stop gathering for two months. And though we continued to preach the Bible (online at first and soon after together), we moved from John to Psalms and Joel and other scriptures. In leaving John, we always planned to come back, and by God’s grace we were able to do that on Sunday.

Picking up where we left off, we overviewed John 1–2 to remember what those chapters said. In seven portraits from those two chapters, we saw a beautiful picture of Christ. And in return, we learned two important things about ourselves. You can find those nine truths in this sermon: Getting Back Into the Gospel of John. You can also find our earlier sermons here, plus other resources on John’s Gospel.

May the Lord bless this series and permit us to continue to study the Gospel of John.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds